Don’t Weep, Stop the Funeral

"With Christ, and His Church, the story is not yet over. Despite the statistics, this is not the end."

I can remember the day that I knew we would fail, as if it were yesterday. I could not possibly change the outcome. In my young career, I was about to add to my resume an intimate knowledge, extending more than a decade, inside one of the most catastrophic corporate failures of a generation. A household name, the keeper of treasured memories, the alchemists of every loved-one’s portrait, Kodak, would inevitably collapse into obscurity. Like the oncologist researcher who once challenged me that nearly all his patients were dead and if I could help just one more live, he would listen to me. It is an occupational hazard, you tend to be around a lot of disease and dying. My life as a parishioner has not been that different. Many  churches are dying. Every day, the church seems to have only two options—reasonable despair or irrational hope.

As I reflect on the many corporate failures and deep struggles to survive that I have known, one thing has transcended it all and makes me more hopeful and alive at this stage of my life—Christ does not give up on His church. The Spirit of God may well let a few buildings fall, may let forms of worship expire, may even let theologians and leaders descend into useless bickering. But Christ does not ever seem to give up on His church! In the West, the mutually reinforcing waves of secularism and rapid change seem relentless. A recent conversation with a group of peers, all fathers, some grandfathers, shared of the pain of children and grandchildren “abandoning” faith. Some days despair seems more sensible than hope.

Recently, my father, now in his 101st year, was animated while talking about the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, he was even enthusiastic. Puzzled, I probed to understand his optimism. “Throughout history every pandemic has been followed by a great flourishing,” he said. “I just hope I live to see what God will raise out of these ashes!” In Luke chapter seven, Jesus has arrived at a town called Nain, where funeral was in full swing—a widow’s son was dead. Understandably, she was weeping. She had lost her son, her only means of economic support, and therefore her place in the community. She had lost everything that mattered, and she had cause for despair. Jesus, who saw the situation quite differently, did three things. He tells the widow not to cry, he stops the funeral, and he tells the dead son to get up—and he starts talking! What all seemed over, was the beginning of something completely new. The story was far from over, it was just beginning!

What would happen if we embraced what was failing as the best way to discover what might be more relevant to strangers.

I have been fortunate to see the after-effects of more than a few business “failures.” Often, capital is deployed more usefully, careers are renewed and refreshed, dysfunctions cease, unhealthy habits fail, green shoots grow more abundant, hope triumphs. When our own sense of loss about our beloved churches feels most agonizing, perhaps we need to hear Jesus say, “don’t weep, stop the funeral!” and most outrageously, “arise!” With Christ, and His Church, the story is not yet over. Despite the statistics, this is not the end. Luke tells us that the crowds that heard of the risen son, said “God has visited His people.” Our parish councils may not be able to change what feels inevitable, but Jesus changes everything. He knows the story—He is the Story.

God of unreasonable hope, though we cannot see how, your church, the one that we know and has become familiar to us, can and will survive. The numbers are bleak and getting bleaker. Yet, you are the God who makes covenants in deserts, preserves people in exile, feeds the hungry, releases captives, and gives sight to the blind. Forgive us when we forget that is it us that live in Your Story, and that Your Story is not yet finished. Therein, lies our hope. Amen 

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